#FOMO #FOM #FO #F — A post about fear, ashtanga and (attempts at) pregnancy

drop

Born in the year of the dragon, my father sometimes says about me — with a temper to match.

“She’s so chill,” said no one ever about my disposition.

Back when I worked in the high-stress marketing department of a hospital system, a former colleague was stunned when she learned that I enjoyed practicing yoga when I could find the time. “You’re not asking the right question,” I told her. “You can’t ask why yoga doesn’t make me calmer at work. You have to ask what I would be like without it.”

I fell in love with the ashtanga yoga practice somewhere around 1999 or 2000. I practiced only sporadically for the first many years. It took me a very long time to find my ashtanga teacher, but I have been doing the traditional six-day-a-week practice since, and found that it has done wonders in helping me deal with conditions ripe for stress. Take the last two years alone, when I’ve had a miscarriage, a major car accident, a work upheaval, and the launch of my own small business. Amazing people — and my consistent practice — have helped me through every part of those journeys.

And . . . tomorrow is the last day I get to practice for at least three months. I’ll be slinging a hammock of rest over the hot summer months, starting with Tuesday’s new moon. It’s not because I’m pregnant, but because I’ve been trying for just over a year to get pregnant. And it’s not because I have evidence that the change offers a concrete way to increase my chances of getting pregnant.

What am I doing?

***

Last fall, I was practicing second series up to karandavasana. For the past few months, I haven’t even been practicing full primary series. More recently, I’ve been stopping at navasana. My directive, I know, is to not let myself heat up too much as I try to nurture a conducive physical and emotional environment for conception and pregnancy. (As a side note, my ob/gyn says that the silver lining of my miscarriage two years ago is that I know I can conceive. But there is also the thing about being 39 — no one says it’s too late. But . . . even I agree that it feels harder.)

And then something came out of left field. It was explained to me a few weeks ago that there are women who ended up stopping their practice entirely before finally getting pregnant. In the ashtanga world, we hear of women who practice — and hard — up until delivery. We also hear of women who stop for the first trimester. And I think we hear of just about everything in between. But stopping to try to get pregnant was an interesting concept for me to consider. (To be honest, I initially viewed it as nothing short of the nuclear option.) These stories were not offered to me as a “you should,” but as a “you might want to know.” It was also emphasized that this had to be my decision and no one else’s — only I could know what the best course is.

I resisted the idea of it — of course I resisted the notion of not practicing for three months. But I was also intrigued. “Faith is the opposite of certainty,” I was told earlier this year, and the spirit of it has stayed with me.

***

I should admit that I was a tad concerned about writing this post because I didn’t want any other ashtangi trying to get pregnant to look at it and see it as an endorsement one way or another. The more I know about pregnancy and practice, the less I feel qualified to say anything about the relationship of the two. How much to practice? What to practice? When to practice? My answer pretty much goes along these lines these days: “A woman should talk to her teacher and work it out with her teacher, her own observations, and her wisdom about what is best.”

I decided to write this post anyway, but promised myself that I would be very clear in saying that I can’t weigh in on the whole practice-and-pregnancy question beyond simply sharing what is happening with me. This is a koan I am living, and I can’t verbalize any answers that would be satisfying to the intellectual mind.

***

So, last week, I gave serious thought to the idea of stopping practice temporarily and then decided it was not for me. I didn’t make that decision out of a fear of missing out, as the #FOMO hashtag in our culture signals so well. I’ve never been competitive about my practice. I don’t care what I practice to, and I don’t care if I look bad-ass like the yogis on Instagram. And I’m not afraid to lose my community of fellow ashtangis, because I can stay in their energetic orbits without being the shala space.

I told myself that hitting “pause” was not for me because I had not been given enough evidence that there was any benefit to stopping practice outright versus doing half-primary and modifying it any way necessary to ensure I don’t heat up too much. Nothing can guarantee that I will get pregnant, so why deprive myself of my emotional-plus-some regulator?

But two things happened to convince me otherwise. I can’t get into them here, but let’s just say that I try to listen to the universe, and I talked to two very strong and insightful women hours apart who uttered two very short questions that made me reconsider. (One practices ashtanga, and one does not practice yoga at all.)

I went back to my teacher and told her that I had changed my mind, and would be going for what was behind door number 2.

***

This morning, during what I knew would be my second-to-last practice, I started to cry. It has only been post-decision that I have started having a more subtle understanding of what I had been holding on to.

On the long drive home, I cried some more. Sad? Yes. Scared? Yes. Optimistic? Yes. Happy? Yes.

Discovery and liberation come in many forms.

The universe has given me so much in the past two years. But it has asked a tremendous amount from me too, and I have learned, and gained, with every loss. There are people and things and habits and countless other stuff too that we all feel we cannot live without. And if they are taken away, we sometimes realize that we didn’t really need them after all — at least we didn’t need them in quite the way we thought we did.

What percolated as I drove through the rainy, steamy humidity this morning was that I was afraid to give up my practice — for however long; the amount of time is not the point — because I was afraid of who I would be without it. How would I make any big decisions in my life? Would I return to being a stress case? Would I return to being Rose circa 2007, 2005 or 2003? (It seems so obvious to type it out now, but I had been missing that element of sheer fear before.)

Here’s the thing: The very thought of not practicing meant I had to stare down the smoky barrel of the question I had been avoiding all this time.

Who am I without this practice, and why is that person not enough?

Before enlightenment, check email, share link. After enlightenment, check email, share link.

20131125-221023.jpg

I listened to an interesting Buddhist Geeks podcast late last week as I was packing for my trip to see my family for the holidays. Here’s a snippet from a discussion with Alex Soojung-Kim Pang about technological determinism:

There’s a great technology writer in Seattle named Monica Guzman who makes the point that taking digital sabbaths is like having an ocean recede. It’s like having low tide.

What happens with our high tech lives is that the waters slowly come up so that you don’t even really notice them. They bring all kinds of things with them. Sort of unspoken assumptions, sort of habits that you get into without realizing. It’s only when you let those waters recede that you’re able to see down to the bottom and to see all of the other things that have come with this technological tide.

The two-part podcast deals with “how the daily rigors of [Pang’s] work with technology damaged his mental focus, and how he turned to meditation to regain that focus. By viewing his work through the lens of his meditation practice he was led to new questions and ideas about how to change mankind’s relationship with technology, how to go from being distracted to more focused and mindful, and the real dangers of taking a passive role in our daily relationship with technology.”

Negotiating the tensions

A day rarely goes by when I’m not on some level negotiating the digital-information tensions: Managing clients’ social media accounts and managing my email inbox are a big part of my job (at work, I have a two-computer-screen set-up and sometimes resort to using my iPhone or iPad as a third screen, and the end of the work day doesn’t mean I get to stop monitoring accounts). Engaging in social media is the primary way I keep up-to-date on the goings-on of those who mean most to me, and it’s also the most reliable way I’ve found to be exposed to the most helpful and provoking thoughts about life on the mat and cushion.

Keeping up with everything can be draining, though — it sometimes feels like playing tetris with an infinite scroll of data. When I feel that information-overload onslaught, what gets zapped isn’t just my energy. My concentration feels scattered, which makes me feel like I’ve lost capacity for clarity about matters. I feel less efficient, less productive, less patient and less present. What happens when too many apps are running on a smartphone or tablet? The battery charge drops so quickly.

#Unplugged

I did my first social media unplug in 2008, and even though that was before I had a six-day-a-week asana rhythm and a regular meditation practice, I knew how vital it was to experiment with this type of recharge.

When Baratunde Thurston walked way from the Internet earlier this year and wrote about it for Fast Company, he discovered four things: He had become obsessed with “The Information,” he shared too much, he was addicted to himself, and he “forsook the benefits of the Industrial Age”:

The first season of Downton Abbey features a remarkable scene in which the Dowager Countess, who is always quick to offer a sharp retort in defense of tradition, responds to another character’s announcement of weekend plans with a truly confused inquiry: ‘What is a weekend?’ One major feature of industrialization was the adoption of leisure time for those of us not among the leisure class. Yet one major feature of the Networked Age is our de-created ability to disengage. Will the concept of downtime have been a temporary blip in the history of civilization?

Thurston, whom I was lucky enough to meet once years ago on a yoga retreat in Michigan, found that by unplugging:

The greatest gift I gave myself was a restored appreciation for disengagement, silence, and emptiness. I don’t need to fill every time slot with an appointment, and I don’t need to fill every mental opening with stimulus. Unoccupied moments are beautiful, so I have taken to scheduling them. Once a quarter, my chief of staff and I institute a zero-appointments “Blank Week,” and almost every week I tune out of the Matrix for hours at a time (yes, while I am awake and conscious). Perhaps the most life-affirming change is that I rarely walk down a street while looking at or tapping on a device. My reading or writing can wait, especially if it means I will be alive later to deal with it.

Media blackout

The degree to which I’ve guarded my social media — or any media — down time has steadily intensified as the rhythm of my morning ashtanga practice has steadied and deepened. And the need to disengage crescendoed this summer during the short time I was pregnant, and following my miscarriage, it felt almost like a doctor’s order: Ingestion of media is contraindicated!

The feeling that kept coming up for me during that time had to do squarely with spaciousness. I needed spaciouness of body, mind and spirit in order to process emotions in real-time; not doing this, I felt, ran the risk of my avoiding the necessary processing, which would have meant suppressing experiences and feelings, and dealing with them down the road. It didn’t seem to me that I could achieve a state of spaciousness if I was hyper-connected.

Social media indigestion?

Since then, I’ve engaged even more frequently in micro-unplugs. But something interesting happened in October after the seasonal Ayurveda cleanse: I came out of it feeling like I had more digestive fire for a lot of things, including social media. To be sure, the fire is stronger and weaker on certain days. I’m on vacation right now, for instance. Sometimes being on vacation means I embrace the digital sabbath. I’ve been all over Facebook this week, however — and it’s felt fine, if not outright lovely. (Facebook is the social network that I find myself guarding against the most when I feel I need mental quiet and spiritual spaciousness.) This is the flip side of the unplugs: When I feel like I can digest it, I try to be on, to be part of the community.

This will only last so long, though, and eventually, I’ll start to close the sense gates again, only being on Facebook to do what I need to do.

Adding perhaps an interesting additional dimension to this topic is the fact that I recently took a personality test after avoiding it all these years. The results, for whatever they’re worth, said I’m an INFJ. Traits of the INFJ include: “…the sensitivity of INFJs allows them to connect to others quite easily. Their easy and pleasant communication can often mislead bystanders, who might think that the INFJ is actually an extrovert….As introverts, INFJs need to have some ‘alone time’ every once in a while or otherwise their internal energy reserves will get depleted really quickly. If this happens, the INFJ may surprise everybody around them by withdrawing from all their activities for a while – and since other people usually see INFJs as extroverts, this can leave them both surprised and concerned.”

Monkey mind

In the second part of the Buddhist Geeks podcast — this one focused on contemplative computing — Pang talks about how he started asking digitally connected monks and nuns how they manage to spend hours online without it becoming a distraction. He says:

Universally, they turned the question around: ‘Why is it that you think the distraction comes from the technology?’ And their argument was actually the monkey mind is a far greater engine of distraction than any external technology, and that once you understand that spending hours playing video poker or watching cats on YouTube is not just a kind of inevitable consequence of human evolution…but rather probably reflects other kinds of disatisfactions in our lives rather than reflects a love of shiny, blinking Internet things, once you see that, then the problem resolves itself. It may not be a kind of position that everyone can take ,but I think it is a really powerful one. Ultimately, what the argument is that that distraction does not come from technology, distractions comes from within. You deal with it the way you deal with distractions for the last 2,500 years…

Later in the podcast, Pang talks about potential ways of fighting back against the distractions. It’s an interesting listen, if you have the time.

What’s your take on technology and distraction, information and emptiness? I would love to hear how you negotiate the digital world in relation to your various practices.

(Graphic credit: “Rip Tide” via rkag’s Flickr photostream)

My long, apanic summer being pregnant — and miscarrying

Featured

I’m in the back seat of our Ford Fusion, feeling a tad sleepy as I type on the iPad that’s balanced on my lap. My husband is driving, my sister Alisa is in the front seat, and Atoms for Peace’s notes roll through the speakers as gently as we’re coasting over these northern Michigan curves and hills. The fall leaves haven’t quite turned yet, but the drive is gorgeous nonetheless.

My husband and I were so happy we could take my sister, who is visiting from California, out for a fabulous weekend in Traverse City. But it was more than just a weekend getaway for me. The last time Scott and I were here was in the spring, and this was where we discovered I was pregnant. Now, post-miscarriage, I wanted to return and face the incongruity of my current reality versus what had been my visions for fall.

I had expected to be very pregnant and really showing by now, modifying every aspect of my life in my second trimester. Instead, I’m eating for one, able to wine and dine as I please in this foodie town. Friday night we passed the riverfront area where we had called our parents from to share the good news, and I thought about how the two people who had been so excited that day in spring have had to mature quite a bit in intervening months.

I didn’t write about the pregnancy on this blog because I was waiting until the second trimester to generally announce that I was pregnant; I agreed with the advice that you should wait until the second trimester, when the chances for miscarriages decrease substantially, to share news of pregnancy. Never did make it to the second trimester, and dealing with the miscarriage process was too intense for me to write about before I had fully processed it. (In hindsight, I think that for me, not writing about being pregnant made initially talking about the miscarriage that much harder. Should I get pregnant again, I’m not sure I would take the same approach.)

I did finally write about my pregnancy and my practice. Rebelle Wellness published that piece a couple weeks ago:

Rebelle Wellness

A garland of moon days

I learned I was pregnant on a beautiful, radiant moon day in May. It was on a somber moon day in July that I learned the baby who had been growing inside me no longer had a heartbeat and was, instead, a gray, two-dimensional embryo projected onto the ultrasound screen. And it was on a moon day in August — after four emotionally and physically intense weeks of trying to actually miscarry — that my body finally gave the signal it truly understood I was no longer pregnant. That tremendous relief came after having tried to let nature take its course, then taking a drug that triggers intense cramping to induce it and — when, inconceivably to me, even that did not work — finally relenting and taking the surgical option.

During this challenging time of waiting for the expulsion of, as clinicians like to put it, “products of conception,” I stayed with my practice — though there were days when I had to significantly modify it, paring it down to barely anything more than the opening invocation and the closing invocation with sun salutations, standings, and the last three poses hammocked in between.

So I went from the downward-flowing apanic energy of pregnancy straight into the even more intensely apanic energy of trying to miscarry. It’s no wonder I experienced the summer as heavy, lethargic and leaning toward the depressive. Having decided that I could only take so much apana, I’ve spent the last several weeks consciously shifting toward cultivating upward-moving — pranic — energy. I’ve been grateful for the accompanying boost in creative energy that has come with that shift.

Being in Traverse City in a different season has helped me energetically scrub away a sense of loss and longing from one of my favorite places. For me, fall — even more than spring — is a great reminder that everything is changing, all of the time. And today just happens to be the fall equinox — a fitting marker to confirm that my long, apanic summer is fully behind me now.

20130922-205419.jpg

(Photo credit: “The life cycle of a leaf” first seen via The I fucking love science Facebook page. The beautiful photo was taken by Rob Herr.)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Resources for Ashtanga yoga and pregnancy

Fertility necklace with stones such as rainbow moonstone, believed by some to enhance fertility

Fertility necklace

Lots of pregnancy talk/thoughts in my world of late:

  • I have two friends who are both roughly 36 weeks pregnant, and they’re tracking progress on Facebook. It’a amazing how the human body accommodates change (like, in the case of one friend, twins).
  • One of my sisters recently sent me a beautiful fertility necklace containing a mix of stones such as rainbow moonstone, and on a recent call, she very helpfully started to tell me about a fertility app her friend used. “No app!” I protested. “The necklace will do just fine. :-)”
  • In searching for something else earlier today, I randomly stumbled over a new segment on Kino MacGregor’s YouTube channel in which she says to look out for a few new videos she’ll soon be dropping that featuring a Miami Life Center teacher, Alexandra Santos, at 34 weeks pregnant:

My interest in Ashtanga and pregnancy was piqued a couple years ago when a friend who had gotten pregnant asked me if I knew of any good resources for pregnant ashtangis. As with most everything, a qualified teacher is the best resource. Beyond that, in looking into some resources for her, I was surprised at how few “official” sources there were out there.

It’ll be interesting to see what content Kino releases soon.

A little consensus, a lot of lack of consensus

I haven’t spent a ton of time pouring over online resources for Ashtanga yoga and pregnancy, but what I have read through tells me that a few points seem to enjoy a fair amount of consensus: Women should avoid twists, jump-backs and poses that involve being on the belly. And if there is one overriding mantra about Ashtanga and pregnancy, it’s this: Listen to your body. Everyone seems to agree that it’s imperative for a woman to listen to her body (makes sense!) and follow her intuition (agreed!).

When it comes to specifics, it seems to me that the advice can start to diverge quite a bit. I am particularly fascinated at the moment by the debate over whether ashtangis should practice in the first trimester.

On whether to practice during the first trimester:

“All women are different and react differently with the pregnancy in the beginning. Some are very tired and feel nauseous, and vomit, others are feeling well. It is best to not do the practice during the three first months to see how the pregnancy is going. Even if you feel strong and healthy it is good to let the body rest because so many things are changing in the body during this time. For some it might take a little ‘will-power’ to slow down though.” —Interview with Saraswathi Rangaswamy

“The decision to practice yoga during the first trimester is an individual matter. Since this is an article about Ashtanga Yoga practice, it must be emphasized that Sri K. Pattabhi Jois advises women not to practice Ashtanga Yoga at all during the first trimester. This advice makes particular sense if one has experienced a miscarriage or when high-risk pregnancy factors are present. Since one generally does not know whether a pregnancy is high-risk until second trimester or later, it is advisable to take a conservative approach to one’s practice, beginning with the first trimester.” –“Ashtanga Yoga Practice During Pregnancy” article by Betty Lai on Ashtanga.com

“It is not wise to begin any new vigorous activity if newly pregnant. The first trimester of pregnancy is particularly more delicate. If however the activity is well established by making the appropriate adjustments one may continue a modified version for the duration of the pregnancy.” —David Swenson and Shelley Washington on Ashtanga.net

“Take rest from all asana practice during your first trimester. It is a very sensitive time for you and your baby. Your body is going through deep changes to adjust to the new life inside, and make a ‘home’ for him or her.” — from Ashtanga Yoga Victoria.

“Many women find it feels most natural and comfortable to avoid practicing any Yoga-asana at all during the first trimester of pregnancy. It is generally recommended by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and Sharath Rangaswamy NOT to practice Ashtanga Yoga during your first trimester.” —Ashtanga Yoga Canada

“During pregnancy, it is okay to feel warm and to sweat while practicing, however, especially in the first trimester, it is very important not to let your body reach and remain at 102 degrees or above for any sustained length of time. If you have any doubts, stop and rest. Let your body’s signals guide you, if you feel short of breath, dizzy or nauseous, then you may be too warm.” —Ashtanga Yoga New Orleans

“Miscarriages are natural and devastatingly common whether you do everything by the book or not. I can understand why people look for answers as to why miscarriages happen. All the reasons I have heard about why they occur from other people (she ran, she twisted, she jumped, she fell) seem to be trained on limiting the mother’s mobility and blaming her for whatever might go wrong. I decided to practice for the rest of my first trimester, but only because I felt like it. David [Robson] told me to stick to standing series for the remaining 6 weeks I had in my first trimester. In India, I don’t think Sharath would teach a pregnant woman for the first 3 months but that makes sense to me because he wouldn’t have a chance to have a regular and sustained teaching relationship with anyone because of his schedule. I did standing for a few days, but I wasn’t sick or nauseous and I felt better moving than sitting around. So after two days, I asked David in the car before Mysore if I could do the rest of primary. A week later, my backbends were still feeling good, and I asked if I could add on dropbacks, and that was OK too. The week after that I added on some intermediate, and David crouched down beside me in the room and said, ‘Umm. No. Just wait until 12 weeks.’” —Stan Byrne, from her blog, Miss Stan

“The whole advice battlefield had its biggest impact when I took a teacher’s advice to not practice during the first trimester. By my second day off, it was clear that my body wasn’t a fan of that idea at all. I started to get morning sickness, which I hadn’t had before, and generally felt pretty awful. After seeing the doctor, and getting the all clear, I resumed practicing, and started feeling better right away. The morning sickness never returned….The best advice I got at this stage was from my doctor and from reading an article about Nancy Gilgoff’s comments about Ashtanga while pregnant. The doctor basically chuckled at the idea that I was heeding any advice given by non-doctors. She told me my number one job during the pregnancy was to train like I was going to run a marathon – labor was going take as much work as running 26 miles, and being in good physical shape would be crucial. The best yoga specific advice was to keep doing whatever I was comfortable doing before the pregnancy, but also listening and modifying as needed as my body changed as the baby grew.” —Wendy Spies

“PREGNANCY. Absolutely fine for women who already have an established ashtanga practice to continue all through pregnancy (obviously with much modification in the later stages, although Nancy says she had a student who practiced third series into the ninth month). Wait three months after birth before resuming ashtanga practice. Not a good idea for pregnant women who haven’t done yoga before to start with ashtanga – fine to start with other forms of yoga practice.” –One practitioner’s paraphrasing of a 2002 workshop with Nancy Gilgoff.

And those are just thoughts specific to one topic. Inversions could take up another post entirely.

Here’s a video of a nine-months-pregnant Rhonda Green (apparently she gives birth three days after this video was shot) practicing Ashtanga:

And then, after pregnancy, there’s the “fourth trimester.”

There are Bhakti babies, toddlers in Mysore and more kids heading to Mysore. I’m sure the diversity of opinions there is as interesting as the diversity of thoughts surrounding the first trimester.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.